Could sport in Doncaster be on the way up in 2022?
Last year restored hope that team sport in Doncaster can still reach another level.
And there is plenty to play for heading into 2022 with Doncaster Knights and Doncaster Rovers Belles leading their respective divisions.
There had been a growing sense, at least in my view, that Doncaster’s leading clubs had either bottomed out or reached their level - and that the financial pressures of the pandemic would hamper any significant progress at least in the short term.
But the last 12 months saw Knights, Belles and Doncaster RLFC rally to suggest that they each have the capability to climb another level.
And there was also something of a renaissance across the town’s non-league football scene as Rossington Main and Armthorpe Welfare have both shown notable improvement, while Club Thorne Colliery are well positioned in their bid for promotion to the Northern Counties East League.
Knights have the hardest task in gaining promotion to the Gallagher Premiership, not least because following this season promotion from the Championship will be halted until the 2024/25 campaign.
The Castle Park club had slid down the second tier standings since their play-off exploits in 2016 and 2017 but Steve Boden, who took over as head coach in 2020, has lifted them back into the upper echelons and their win over promotion favourites Ealing Trailfinders in November highlighted their potential.
Lincoln City appear to be Belles’ main rivals as they chase promotion from FAWNL Division One Midlands.
It’s hard to believe that the Belles won the second tier title as recently as 2018 and the club’s fall from grace has been a significant blow to the sporting landscape in Doncaster, especially at a time when women’s sport is thriving in general.
But under the guidance of Andy Butler this is now a team back on an upward trajectory.
They are now much more organised with and without the ball and the recent additions to the squad could help them reach the FAWNL Northern Premier Division which would be a more respectable level for a club with such a proud and successful history.
The Dons, meanwhile, will be aiming to go one better after losing in last season’s Betfred League One play-off final to Workington Town.
Last year’s campaign was a real rollercoaster ride as Richard Horne’s men burst out of the traps, suffered a mid-season crisis before regaining momentum but then running out of steam in the final.
The club will be keen to mount another promotion challenge this year – their seventh successive season in League One following relegation from the Championship in 2015 – but another major overhaul of the squad will not make it any easier.
Rossington Main have undergone something of a transformation under boss Ben Hunter and went top of NCEL Division One at the start of November, raising hopes of some rare success for Doncaster on the non-league circuit.
They have since stumbled slightly and lost ground in the race for the one automatic promotion spot but remain well placed in sixth for a shot at the play-offs, while Armthorpe Welfare in ninth have not given up all hope of a top five finish.
Club Thorne Colliery, who have ambitions of climbing the league ladder, have lost just one game out of 19 and are third in the Premier North Division of the Central Midlands League, one point behind leaders Newark Town with a game in hand.
Elsewhere, Doncaster Eagles lie fourth in Division Two North of the National Basketball League, while Doncaster Hockey Club’s men and women are positioned fourth and fifth respectively in EHL Conference North.